Tories fail to make breakthrough in Ontario

Tories were unable to make a breakthrough in the key political battleground that holds more than a third of the country's ridings.

Despite predictions of a tight race and big Conservative gains in Ontario, the Tories were unable to make a breakthrough in the key political battleground that holds more than a third of the country's ridings.

Although dropping seats from the 2000 election, the Liberals held their grip on the province, capturing 76 seats. In the Greater Toronto Area, it was a near sweep for the Liberals, who won 40 of 44 seats. In the city itself, it was a sea of red, except for the lone NDP seat won by leader Jack Layton.

Even Liberals who won couldn't quite explain their sweep across the GTA. "It was supposed to be a very close race," said John Godfrey, who held on to Don Valley West. "Last time I got 55 per cent of the vote, this time I got 61 per cent and frankly I can't explain it. So I'm gratified, delighted and mystified."

The Tories, who were hoping for at least 40 seats in their bid to form a minority government, won 24 seats, taking 19 from the Liberals. The NDP finished with seven seats, taking six from the Liberals.

Ontario holds 106 of the 308 seats across the country. When Parliament dissolved, the Liberals held 95 seats, followed by the Tories with four, and the NDP with two. Two seats were vacant. Three new ridings had been created. In the 2000 election, the Liberals held 100 seats, followed by two for the Canadian Alliance and one New Democrat.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Paul Martin spent the majority of their campaign battles in Ontario, with the Conservative leader spending 24 of 36 campaign days in the province, compared with 20 days for the prime minister.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, the only one of the three running for a seat in Ontario, spent the least amount of time in the province at just 16 days.

The Conservatives and the NDP were hoping to capitalize on voter anger following Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty's budget. McGuinty promised not to raise taxes but then imposed an annual health-care levy and user fees for some services.

Martin had tried to distance himself from McGuinty throughout the campaign, saying politicians should not make promises they can't keep.

But McGuinty, whose brother David won a seat in his Ottawa riding, had nothing but praise for Martin.

"In Ontario, it's a great night for Liberals and a great night for Liberal values," McGuinty said in a statement.

Most of Martin's Ontario cabinet ministers were re-elected in the province. But Martin lost four ministers, including Defence Minister David Pratt and Agriculture Minister Bob Speller.

Former journalist and former minister of national revenue Stan Keyes lost his riding of Hamilton Centre and Gar Knutson, minister of state for new and emerging markets also lost Monday. Two of Paul Martin's handpicked candidates won: Ruby Dhalla and former NHL star goalie Ken Dryden.

The Conservatives were counting on their newly merged party to end vote-splitting in key ridings, specifically Ontario.

But the Liberals and Conservatives both dropped in popular vote. The Liberals went down seven per cent, the Tories recorded a six per cent drop.

The NDP and the Green party increased their popular vote by 10 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively.

Voter turn-out was up by four per cent.

All but one former provincial Tory – David Tilson – were elected federally to the new Conservative party.

Garry Carr, a former provincial Tory MPP, won his riding, but he switched parties to run for the Liberals.